Riding into sunset years

By Keith Newbery

Published on Friday, June 22, 2012 - 11:15


Riding into sunset years

Bob Welch, right, and Keith Newbery ready for action. Picture by Peter Boam.

THIS ISLAND LIFE "DO you know," said Bob Welch (aged 82½), as he aimed a replica Winchester repeater rifle out of his kitchen window at imaginary injuns marauding through his runner beans, "some women actually believe men may grow old but they never really grow up."

"What a lot of nonsense," I (aged 63¾) replied, as I buckled on one of Bob’s gun belts and began practising my draw in his living-room mirror.

"Mind you, they could have a point," said Bob, "because a pal of mine has an entire model railway laid out in his attic and he plays with his choo-choos for hours on end."

"Now you come to mention it," I replied, "I know a bloke who still plays with the Star Wars models he collected about 35 years ago."

"Sad isn’t it?" said Bob, as he blew make-believe gunsmoke from the end of his rifle barrel. "Certainly is," I replied, as I pushed the Stetson to the back of my head and began twirling the imitation Colt pistol round my index finger like the Lone Ranger always did at least once every episode.

Mr Welch and I flatter ourselves we are aficionados (well, we are certainly devotees) of the Western culture, as devised and promulgated by cinema and television over the past 70 years.

We’ve known each other for years, thanks to an association with cricket on the Island, but we only learned of our shared affection for, and knowledge of, John Wayne et al, by accident.

A passing remark led to a detailed conversation and before you knew it we were testing out each other’s knowledge in the way often favoured by self-professed specialists.

He once sent me a picture of the Durango Kid, with the comment: "Everyone knows who this is — but name the actor who played him!"

I replied, before setting my own little test.

"How did John Wayne pay an affectionate tribute to his late friend, Harry Carey, at the end of The Searchers?

(For those as sad as us, the answers to both questions can be found at the end of this article).

When you become consumed by an interest, you can never learn too much about it, so Bob and I tend to peel back the layers of Westerns and study the minutiae beneath.

Film locations and supporting actors are a special interest and we can spot a budget movie made on one of the ranches behind the Hollywood hills (sometimes masquerading as the Little Big Horn) within seconds of the opening credits.

John Wayne had his own repertory company, with regulars such as Ben Johnson, Hank Worden, Harry Carey jr (son of the aforementioned HC sr) and Grant Withers turning up in a variety of roles.

But fanatics like Mr Welch and I delve deeper and discuss the relative merits of even more obscure stalwarts such as Lane Bradford, Paul Fix and the unforgettable Iron Eyes Cody, who appeared in more than 200 films mostly, as his name implies, as an American Indian.

He claimed Cherokee ancestry and was even honoured by members of the Native American community for his work on their behalf.

It wasn’t until three years before his death in 1999, at the age of 94, Cody was revealed to have been the son of Italian immigrants and had lived a lie all his life.

On hearing the news, Mr Welch and I agreed how pathetic it was when men immerse themselves in a make-believe world, even when their dotage beckons …

l Incidentally, The Durango Kid was played by Charles Starrett, and in the final scene of The Searchers, Wayne can be seen framed in the door of a ranch house.

Just before he turns to walk away, he reaches across and grasps his right elbow with his left hand — a pose often adopted by Carey, whose wife, Olive, and son, Harry jr, also featured in the film and were watching when Wayne paid his unique and unexpected tribute.

Tuning into a radio saga

SOME weeks ago, an article on the Ryde shops of yesteryear seemed to hit the nostalgia button — and the memories keep coming in.Ian Jolliffe wrote to say Clark’s radio & TV business (which had the slogan 'for better service’) was founded in Sandown in 1926 by his grandfather, Cecil Clark.

He added: "My uncle Bill took over when Cecil died in 1950 and by the 1960s had six branches across the Island.

"He sold up to a mainland firm (DER I think) in the 1970s and died last year, aged 100.

"When he was about 80, he wrote a memoir of his life and I have a copy. In 1926 he says he 'helped father build wireless sets on the kitchen table.’"

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